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New Columbus Zoo CEO working to build trust after AZA denies accreditation appeal

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums denied the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's attempt to reinstate its accreditation on Monday.

POWELL, Ohio — One day following the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's denied appeal for accreditation, its new president and CEO addressed the controversies that caused the organization to lose its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“It's not impacting our animal care. It's not impacting our animal welfare program. It's not impacting any experiences that can provide for our guests,” said Tom Schmid. “All it does really directly is impact how we do some of our animal management programs and our staff are involved in over 190 SSP programs. And so some of that work is going to be diminished. Now, you can still participate in some of these programs and not be an accreditation member. You can actually be a sustainability partner, which is what we will be considered.”

Schmid filled the role formerly held by Tom Stalf in October. Stalf, and CFO Greg Bell face allegations of misusing $630,000.

A documentary called “The Conservation Game” claimed the zoo had ties to the big cat trade.

“There were roughly a handful of times we know our outreach animals were obtained by institutions that don't meet our standards,” said Schmid. “If you look at the collection of animals, 99.9% of the 8,000 or 9,000 animals that we have, it wasn’t an issue. But it was an issue with a few of the cats.”

Schmid comes from the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, where he served as CEO for 25 years. He tells 10TV it will be an uphill climb to get the zoo accredited by the AZA in September 2022, and he is ready for the challenge.

“I think it's going take some time,” said Schmid. “I've told our community and our board that, you know, trust is important, but now is the time for trust and verify. And so I'm going to be very closely scrutinized, and I welcome that. I think that's how we build that trust back. So it's going to take time, it's going to take a lot of communication from me, and our actions are going to really have to speak louder than words.”

Schmid did not provide details if Jack Hanna was aware of any of how some of the big cats were obtained.

Schmid says nothing will change from the guests' and animal care perspectives. He was unable to say if any animals will be transferred to other institutions as a result of this week's decision.

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